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Fentanyl-related overdoses are a “very dangerous trend” affecting Montgomery County and mirrored across the nation, according to MCPS medical officer Patricia Kapunan.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid with 50 times the strength of heroin and 100 times the strength of morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Illegally made fentanyl comes in a variety of forms, including powders, pills, liquids and nasal sprays. Other drugs like cocaine and heroin can be laced with fentanyl, sometimes without the user’s knowledge, according to the CDC.

In an urgent message published electronically through MCPS on Dec. 9, Kapunan wrote that the use of fentanyl was involved in over 70% of all overdoses within Montgomery County in 2021. Those included cases involving fentanyl-laced substances and substances disguised as Xanax, Adderall, Percocet or oxycodone. In 2020, the Maryland Department of Health reports that 120 state residents under 25 years old died from the use of fentanyl.

Kapunan’s message warned of increased overdoses and suggested that new preventative initiatives are being developed. She shared information about the use of naloxone, or Narcan, as an emergency nasal medication for reversing overdoses.

“Montgomery County residents can access naloxone, and training on how to use it, for free without an individual prescription,” she wrote.


Residents can register for training on the use of naloxone and can request free quantities of the medication by calling DHHS Harm Reduction Services at 240-777-1836.

Kapunan included links to a variety of local online resources, including Montgomery Goes Purple, Parent CRAFT and the Montgomery County 24-Hour Crisis Center.

County school offices are working closely with community partners and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop new overdose prevention and treatment strategies, according to Kapunan.


She reported that these initiatives will address both substance use and mental health issues generally as well as focusing specifically on the illegal use of fentanyl.

“The opioid crisis continues to have devastating effects nationwide and also in our community,” she wrote. “Everyone can play a role in fighting this epidemic.”

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